Life To The Dead Disciples
by Pastor Mike Fortune
June 7, 2008
Introduction: YouTube: "Elevator Music"
Life Comes From...
- Knowing you are loved [John 11:1-5; Ephesians 1:2-6; Philippians 2:1-2]
- By the light of the world [John 11:6-10; John 9:4-5; John 12:35-36]
- Who removes our fear of dying [John 11:11-16; Philippians 1:19-21]
“1Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair. 3So the sisters sent word to Jesus, "Lord, the one you love is sick." 4When he heard this, Jesus said, "This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it." 5Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days. 7Then he said to his disciples, "Let us go back to Judea." 8"But Rabbi," they said, "a short while ago the Jews tried to stone you, and yet you are going back there?" 9Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours of daylight? A man who walks by day will not stumble, for he sees by this world's light. 10It is when he walks by night that he stumbles, for he has no light." 11After he had said this, he went on to tell them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up." 12His disciples replied, "Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better." 13Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. 14So then he told them plainly, "Lazarus is dead, 15and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him." 16Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with him."
According to John 11:18, Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem. Specifically 1.7 miles, 2.7 km, or 15 furlongs whatever that is. Located on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives, today there remains a town known as “el-Azariyeh” meaning “Lazarus’ village.” But since it is actually 2.5 miles east of Jerusalem, people aren’t sure it’s the exact same place—even though there’s a tomb in it containing the names Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Which for a wealthy family that could afford many mourners, according to John 11:19, would make sense that they could also afford a tomb.
But whether it is or isn’t the exact town or tomb, it couldn’t be more appropriate that our passage today and for the next few weeks deals with the death of a man named Lazarus of Bethany. Because his name means “whom God helps” or simply “God helps.” And it is through the reaction of the disciples, then his sisters, then Lazarus himself when he’s resurrected, and finally the Pharisees that we see that Jesus not only helps, but also loves us all like crazy. Even when our prayers aren’t answered the way we want them to be. Or after awful things happen to us. Or when Jesus takes way too long to return. So we’ll be digging into John 11 today and this month and I hope you can read ahead and follow along as we do so.
Last we heard from Jesus, according to John 10:40, He was escaping the grasp of the Pharisees [again] and this time heading 25 miles north of Jerusalem to the wilderness region of Peraea east of the Jordan River where his cousin John the Baptist had been baptizing. And there He apparently stayed until it was time for His last Passover.
Previously, we also noticed that the content in the Gospel of John doesn’t always happen chronologically and our passage today is obviously one of those because verse 2 says “2This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.”
But the thing is, we haven’t even gotten to that story in the Gospel of John! It will be told in chapter 12:1-11. So obviously in our passage today, John isn’t telling a chronological story of the life of Jesus like He does when the Good Shepherd of John 10 immediately follows and illustrates the response of the blind man in chapter 9. He’s putting it all together, not necessarily in order, to make a point. And the first point I think he’s making is: Life comes from knowing you are loved. Let’s look at verse 3 and 5 again.
“3So the sisters sent word to Jesus, "Lord, the one you love is sick."5Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” This chapter of Scripture, as crazy as it sounds, is really not about death. Lazarus’ or Jesus’ rapidly approaching one. It is about life that comes from knowing you are loved. But not like that random crowd in the elevator clip we just watched. Not the courteous love strangers extend to one another. No, the word used for love in verse 3 that the sisters use to describe Jesus’ love for Lazarus is phileo.But the word John uses to describe the love Jesus really had for this family in verse 5 is agape. Verse 5 says, “Jesus agape Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” That’s the kind of love John uses elsewhere to describe the crazy kind of love God has for us and gives us to share with others.
For example, it’s the word used in John 13:34 where Jesus says, “A new command I give you: Agape one another. As I have agape you. So you must agape one another.” It’s the same word that Paul uses in Ephesians 1:2-6 and Philipians 2:1-2. The Ephesians passage goes like this: “2Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In agape 5he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—6to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he agape.”
The Philippians quote goes like this: “1If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his agape, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same agape, being one in spirit and purpose.”
So what’s the point? The point is life comes from knowing you are loved. And this is extremely important to remember because there will come times in your life when you will doubt that! My family just went through one of those times.
Many of you know my 18 year old brother in law Jay nearly died in an auto accident. He wasn’t drinking. It was a sleepy Saturday morning. He was on his way to bowling practice. And simply neglected to stop at an stop sign he had been through many times before. A newly restored classic car carrying a family of 5 with 3 little boys in the backseat were out for their first ride early Saturday morning and slammed into Jay’s driver’s side door breaking Jay’s neck and severing his aorta in two. Thirty minutes later the fire department found a way to cut Jay out of the wreckage and helicopter him to Saginaw and finally to the University of Michigan medical center where they waited for 10 hours trying to figure out a way to repair his heart without cracking his chest open and moving his broken neck.
In a procedure that could only have been done at 2 other hospitals in the nation and required 15 mm of healthy aortic tissue above the tear in his heart, the doctors finally got in there and found exactly 15 mm of healthy aortic tissue to secure a tube stopping the internal bleeding.
The fact that only one child in the other car was hospitalized and that none of that other family suffered life threatening injuries, that Jay arrived at one of the only hospitals capable of inventing the only procedure that could save his life, and that it worked, and that he is not paralyzed all reminded my family that God loves them like crazy!
Since our Heavenly Father is aware when a tiny bird falls out of the nest and knows the number of hairs on our head, he also knows how many millimeters were needed to save Jay’s life. So we celebrated God’s amazing grace and will continue to do so next week when we see them. Life comes from knowing that we are loved. And it is that love that He gives us. That we are incapable of giving to anyone without receiving it first. We aren’t born with it. Some life long followers of Jesus still haven’t received it. Martha actually did. But Mary didn’t. At least not yet. We know this is true because upon Jesus’ arrival on the outskirts of Bethany, she didn’t go meet Jesus like Martha did. Verse 20 says she stayed behind. It wasn’t until Jesus specifically asks her to come out to greet Him in verse 28 that she does so. And sometimes, we’re a lot like Mary too. Doubting God’s love and friendship when our prayers aren’t answered the way we want them to be. Or after awful things happen to us. Or when Jesus takes way too long to return. But we don’t have to doubt God’s love and friendship because deep down, in the pit of our stomach, we can know that God is good. Even though everything in life isn’t.
The word used in Philippians 2:1 to describe the depth of the comfort of Christ’s love is splagxnon or literally bowels. The KJV says it this way: “If [there be] therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, [being] of one accord, of one mind.” Philippians 2:1-2 KJV.
Point number one: Life comes from knowing we are loved. Not in some token way. Like a common courtesy that strangers extend to other strangers in an elevator. But in a deep unshakable mind boggling way that passes understanding. John 15:13 says “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” And according to John 11:5 and 11:11, Martha and Mary and Lazarus were Jesus’ friends. He agapied them from the pit of His stomach!
Moving on, John 11:6-10 says, “6Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.” [We’ll talk more about the delay and why Jesus stayed away in a couple weeks] Verse 7 continues, “7Then he said to his disciples, "Let us go back to Judea." 8"But Rabbi," they said, "a short while ago the Jews tried to stone you, and yet you are going back there?" 9Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours of daylight? A man who walks by day will not stumble, for he sees by this world's light. 10It is when he walks by night that he stumbles, for he has no light."
John 11 marks the beginning of the end of the Gospel of John. And the life of Jesus. Half of the entire Gospel, from chapters 11 to 21, is devoted to the end of His life. And the disciples were beginning to realize that the end was near. John 10:31,33 described the latest attempt on His life. When the Pharisees tried to seize Him and stone Him. That’s why in our passage today, the disciples say “You sure you want to go back there? They’ll stone you if you do!”
But Jesus’ reply, apparently based on a familiar proverb, is full of confidence they lack. Why? Because Jesus knows He is the light of the world! Which is point number two. Life comes from knowing you are loved [point number one] by the light of the world [point number two]. Wasn’t that what Jesus told the blind man before He opened His eyes in John 9? Verses 4-5 of John 9 says, “4As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5While I am in the world, I am the light of the world."
Jesus would repeat Himself in John 12:35-36 saying “35Then Jesus told them, "You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. The man who walks in the dark does not know where he is going. 36Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light."
Let there be no doubt: Life comes from knowing we are loved by the light of the world. And if you are loved by the light of the world, what darkness do you have to be afraid of? Romans 8:31 asks it this way: “31What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?” Verses 38-39 add, “38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Men plotting to stone the light of the world in darkness have no chance! Jesus would straight out tell them that in John 12:32 when He said He was going to be crucified and lifted up on a cross—not stoned to death. His confidence was in the love He felt from His Heavenly Father who SO loved the world that He sent His Son to die for it. And in the same way, Jesus was gently encouraging his disciples to have that same confidence in His love for them! He was saying, “Don’t worry about it. I am the night light of the world!” And while Peter was thinking about that, Thomas of all people figured it out first!
Now people think Thomas was this doubting disciple. But in actual fact, Philip was the real doubter in the Gospel of John. In John 6:5-7, describing the feeding of the 5,000, Philip is the one who doubts Jesus could do so. In John 14:9, Philip is the one who after being with Jesus the entire time asks Jesus the question that breaks His heart: “9Jesus answered: "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? How can you say, 'Show us the Father'?”
In the Gospel of John, in this passage anyway, Thomas is actually the loyal and brave disciple. Not Peter. Not the doubting disciple like Philip. Thomas is the one whose fear of dying disappears first. We know this is true because of what he says in verse 16. So let’s close by looking at verses 11-16. “11After he had said this, he went on to tell them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up." 12His disciples replied, "Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better." 13Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. 14So then he told them plainly, "Lazarus is dead, 15and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him." 16Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with him."
Some folks think Thomas’ statement sounds like morbid fatalism. I don’t think it was. I think it was one of loving and loyal faith rooted in agape love. There’s something humble and beautiful about that statement. It’s the kind of statement I actually hear more often than not when I visit long time followers of Jesus in the hospital. There is no fear of dying there. They know that death, as Jesus says, is really just a sleep. A rest from all activities of life. They know they shall sleep, but that if you know Jesus you will never die. Because when He returns, in the twinkling of an eye, Jesus will wake them up just like He woke Lazarus up in John 11.
Which reminded me of an article I read about a pastor who doesn’t ask people in his church how they’re doing anymore because too often their answer depended on how they’re feeling, the weather, or the answered prayers or whatever. So instead, he started asking them: What kind of day is it? Which took the attention off of them and on to the actual day instead. And the answer he encouraged them to say, based on Thomas’ response to Jesus in verse 16, was “It’s a good day to die.”
And I think that’s a good answer. It’s a good day to die to the need to have all our prayers answered the way we want them to be. It’s a good day to die to the temptation that God only loves us when we love Him back. It’s a good day to die to the fallacy that death is permanent or scary.
On the other hands, it’s a good day to know you are loved, point number one, by the light of the world, point number two, who removes our fear of dying, point number three.
John 11:16 says, “Then Thomas said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” So let me ask you my church family: What kind of day is it? And you say? “It’s a good day to die.” Yes, Jesus brought life to all those dead disciples. And based on your response today, I believe He’s still doing that today.